Brutalization, Alienation, and Despair
This chapter examines literary and cartoon picaros who succumb to the new wartime phenomenon of le cafard, or trench depression. The much darker and more pessimistic works studied in this chapter move away from the comic picaresque to the cynically satirical picaresque. The chapter begins with a discussion of an important French graphic artist and illustrator whose wartime work is only now being rediscovered. Gus Bofa explored the limits of picaresque moral and physical resiliency, countering Poulbot’s sentimental, nationalistic visual idiom through his uniquely satirical and universalist one. Meanwhile Léon Werth’s novel Clavel soldat (1919) anticipates by more than a decade key themes in Remarque’s All Quiet on the Western Front (1929) and Céline’s Voyage au bout de la nuit (1932), providing a glimpse into the psychological dark side of the picaresque. The chapter explores the alienation and cynicism the poilu-picaro experiences when his rebellious wit turns to black bile, and the unified self required for a full deployment of Le Système Dhas come undone. It reminds us that at its darkest, the picaresque tale has always been one of character deformation.
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